Right, so the first competitive weekend of the 2014/15 season has come and gone, with the MTN8 quarter-finals giving us a taste of the new season. I went to all of these matches this past weekend, particularly to put the microscope on the new signings of the respective clubs. And I was looking to confirm whether they will add value to those teams this season or not.
The first stop on my marathon was Milpark, where Bidvest Wits had a meeting with Bloemfontein Celtic and I was in for a treat as Gavin Hunt gave me exactly what I wanted by playing two of his new acquisitions, Buhle Mkhwanazi and Thulani Hlatshwayo, as his central defending pair. I had no doubt that the former would make it at Wits, with the technical ability he showed while at Tuks. Mkhwanazi’s awareness and his ability to read play makes him one of the finest centre-halves we have ever produced, and in my humble opinion, comes second only to Mbulelo ‘OJ’ Mabizela.
His partner Hlatshwayo was the one I was really interested in. The man from Ajax Cape Town impressed me with his tactical discipline, and knew when to hold a high line, and when to hold his run. His decision making when it comes to man-marking and zonal-marking was instinctive and top drawer.
The two seemed to click well and were able to contain Joel Mokgorosi and play him out of the game. If this is how they’re going to play all season long, then a lot of teams will be frustrated against the Clever Boys. I then moved on to the next game on Saturday, which was at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria between Mamelodi Sundowns and Platinum Stars.
Well, with Sundowns you just can’t wait can you? With all the signings there, one simply wonders which eleven will pop up. But the one player I watched the entire game was Lindokuhle Mbatha, who was playing against his former team in his very first game at Downs, so I had to pick him.
Sadly for Lindo, he didn’t seem all too comfortable and at times his first touch let him down, understandably so. He just didn’t look sure of what’s happening and looked like he forgot to ‘step on the clutch’. Even his coach Mosimane admitted to this when I asked him about the player’s performance after the game, but did mention that it was his debut and he will find his feet.
I agree with ‘Jingles’ after those displays last season for Dikwena also earned him a call-up to the national team. For Platinum stars, they got their second goal from former Pirates player Ndumiso Mabena, who has a lot to prove this season after a disastrous stay with the Sea Robbers. The jury’s still out on this one.
Immediately after that game I was off to Soweto to see Pirates play SuperSport United. Now the most obvious name that popped out of the team sheet was Thabo Qalinge, and in case you don’t know why, he has been the most talked about singing this window with Bucs snatching him from right under Chiefs’ noses from Mpumalanga Black Aces. Suffice to say this was enough to have Amakhosi fans spitting fire and when Vladimir Vermezovic sent for the lad on the touchline, the vuvuzelas went up a decibel or two.
The number 15 jersey went up on the board (much to the disgust of Andile Jali), and he made his debut. Qalinge had the opportunity to write his name in the hearts of the Pirates faithful within two minutes with the goalmouth begging him to score, but he squandered the chance however, he got a round of applause from the stands. That would have been encouraging for the player, who will be hoping to make amends for that miss sooner rather than later if he has any hopes of being accepted by the hard-to-please Pirates fans.
Nonetheless he looked good, was not fazed, and in the end had a good game under the circumstances. The last of the quarter-finals was at FNB stadium where Chiefs played host to Aces. The Naturena-based club has not been aggressive enough in the transfer market, and this has not pleased their fans one bit. One fan even went as far as writing an open letter to club chairman Kaizer Motaung about the matter.
They got a bargain from Moroka Swallows with the signing of left-back Levy Mokgothu, who to be fair is a good signing given Tshepo Masilela’s injury problems. Another player is Zimbabwean midfielder Ovidy Karuru, signed from OH Leuven in Belgium. But only one new player, Siphelele Mthembu got playing time on Sunday.
Mthembu came in for the injured Kingston Nkhatha and seemed to hit the ground running quite well. The runs were perfect, beating the off-side trap a couple of times, and chased anything, thus making Mabizela and company very uncomfortable at the back. He just looked a more mature player than the one who left Pirates a few seasons ago.
So if he plays his cards right, he might even unseat Nkhatha in the starting lineup. On the side of Amazayoni, Clive Barker conceded in the post-match press conference that he made a mistake by playing two of his newcomers Tinashe Nengomasha and Thanduyise Khuboni at the same time. Of course this was not for their lack of experience or quality, because these two have that in tons.
They just didn’t know who should stick and who should move, hence Reneilwe Letsholonyane , who they were supposed to neutralise, ended up with the man-of-the-match cheque. So with all that said, the new acquisitions will continue to be under heavy scrutiny from all of us throughout the season, and hopefully they don’t prove to be flop signings.